An Appreciation Post for Musicals with Black Creators
I have found myself wanting to speak up and speak out for the black lives matter movement but also aware that I have a platform and a readership that I can hopefully use to do so.
I have therefore spent time trying to educate myself on how I can use my platform to raise awareness. I appreciate that this is something I should have done before now and I hope to do better in the future.
I therefore wanted to kick off with an appreciation post on musicals with black creators. I have been having quite a few conversations about black representation in theatre and it was drawn to my attention that often a black story is told by a white person – Hairspray is the perfect example of this. So here are some examples of musicals with a black voice as music, lyrics or book.
1. Shuffle Along
Shuffle Along premiered in 1921 was the first show in over a decade to have music, lyrics and book by an all black team. It was also the first ever Broadway show to have a black creative team and cast. It was by Noble Sissie and Eubie Blake for music and lyrics and Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Liles for the book. It was the first Broadway musical the seriously depicted a black love story as part of the narrative. It was also credited for showing that black centric stories do sell on Broadway.
More recently in 2016 this show was adapted to Shuffle Along or the Making of a Musical Sensation of 1921 and all That Followed which depicted what happened backstage in Shuffle Along. The libretto for this was by George C Wolfe and the production was nominated for 10 Tony Awards.
2. The Wiz
The Wiz is a retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls and the book by William F Brown but it was set in the context of modern African-American culture with an all black cast. It opened on Broadway in 1975 and won 7 Tony awards including best new musical. Geoffrey Holder, was also the first black American to win best director of a musical.
In 1978 it was turned into a film starring Dianna Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the scarecrow. Both the film soundtrack and the recording from the 2015 live version is on Spotify although the original Broadway cast recording was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry due to it being culturally, historically or artistically significant.
3. Five Guys Named Moe
Five Guys Named Moe is a musical with music and lyrics by Louis Jordan and the book by Clarke Peters. It opened in the West End in 1990 and on Broadway in 1992. The show tells of Nomax who is listening to the radio after his girlfriend left him. The 5 Moes emerge from his radio and sing him the songs of 1940’s saxophonist and songwriter, Louis Jordan. The show won 2 Olivier awards for best entertainment and best choreography. Both the Original London Cast recording and the Original Broadway Cast recording is on Spotify.
I attended a revival of this in 2017 at the specially built pop up theatre in Marble Arch and adored the party atmosphere that was created.
I don’t know if I am pushing my luck but including this on a musical theatre list as technically it was described as gig theatre rather than a musical. The show was nominated for best play for the Olivier awards but writer and performer, Arinze Kene was nominated for best musical performance. He became only the 2ne Black writer to have a play on in the West End.
Misty was described as ‘The most important cultural experience in British Theatre right now,’ and is a journey through the heart and sole of inner city London.
5. The Color Purple
This is a musical based on the book of the same name by Alice Walker. The music and lyrics are by Brenda Russell, Alee Willis and Stephen Bray (2 out of the 3 are black songwriters) and the book was by Marsha Norman.
The story follows Celie, a black woman living in the South of America in the early 20th century and deals with themes such as race, domestic abuse and lesbianism. It originally opened on Broadway in 2005 and was revived in 2015. There was also a production at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2013. Both the Menier and the Broadway revival saw Cynthia Erivo play Celie to critical acclaim. On Spotify you can find both the original Broadway cast recording and the revival version.
6. Bring In Da Noise Bring In Da Funk
This show was conceived, the book =, music and lyrics by an all black team: music by Daryl Waters, Zane Mark and Ann Duquesnay; lyrics by Reg E. Gaines, George C. Wolfe and Ann Duquesnay; and a book by Reg E. Gaines. It opened on Broadway in 1995 and it tells the story of black history from slavery to the emergence of hip hop in black culture, all through tap.
7. Tina – The Musical
This is a jukebox musical featuring ther musical of Tina herself (who wrote most of her own songs) with the book by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar, and Kees Prins (one out of the three are black writers). It tells the story of Tina’s life but isn’t filled with froth as it deals with domestic violence and Turner’s overdose. The show opened in the West End in 2018 and transferred to Broadway in 2019. The original London cast recording can once again be found on Spotify.
Thank you for reading this article. If there are any other musicals with black creators then please do tell me about them in the comments. I would love to learn more about them and listen to them.